In the 16th century, 114 colonists mysteriously vanished from Roanoke Island. Hundreds of years later, the mystery remains unsolved but has become just a story for tourists, re-enacted each year in the local theatre. Miranda is a summer intern at Waterside Theatre, the freak at school and a Blackwood, a family name that brings with it a history of outcasts. After losing her mother her father hit the bottle and her only friend is her dog Sidekick. When 114 people vanish overnight, including her father, she finds herself at the centre of it all. And then Phillips turns up; the boy who claims to hear the dead.

Miranda had no clue what to do. This was the kind of thing she should have bought up in polite conversation with Sara earlier. What do I do if your son suddenly goes spirit tuning fork again?

Having never heard of the Lost Colony, I was intrigued by the historical aspect and how it would be explained away. It did make me smile when a certain historical character turned up (not Marlowe but getting nearly as common in fantasy). If anything, it has piqued my interest in finding out more about the history. There’s a lot going on and I wonder if the pace suffered because of this. There’s Miranda’s family problems, a sinister birthmark that carries a curse, a boy who hears the dead, a murder, an FBI investigation into the missing people and a whole host of excitement that happens after. It took me ages to get into and every time the pace picked up, something new was added to the plot which slowed it down again.

There’s potential for it to be really rather creepy but Miranda came across as a bit detached which made it hard to connect to her. And there lies my problem, it wasn’t in-depth enough on any one of the plot points to keep my interest and yet I didn’t care enough about the characters to overlook that. Their dry humour may appeal to others but it felt like they were hiding their real selves behind it. It’s also a little irritating when writers put in little cultural references and go on to explain them. When they’re not relevant to the plot, it doesn’t matter if the reader doesn’t get them and explaining it just comes across as awkward.

On the plus side, it doesn’t fall into any of the obvious romantic traps of young adult. Really, it’s not romantic at all and the developing relationship between Miranda and Phillips is rather tame and sweet. It’s also refreshing to read a standalone novel, that has *gasp* an ending. Overall it’s something a bit different which is what Strange Chemistry is aiming for.

Blackwood is one of the launch titles of Strange Chemistry, the new young adult imprint of Angry Robot and will be published in paperback and ebook formats on 6th September 2012.

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